In an apparent attempt to proactively screen for potential terrorist and terrorist activity, the federal government including various customs offices and embassies has begun asking travelers to supply details about their social media handles to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat and more.
The collection of social media data was first proposed by Homeland Security in the summer of 2016. At least one United States Embassy – the embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados — has confirmed that it can ask certain visa applications from the Caribbean for their social media handles to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat and more.
In responding to international media reports, the Embassy said the measure was implemented based on a March 6 2017 Memorandum from President Donald Trump.
“Certain visa applicants worldwide will be required to provide additional background and identifying information, including their social media handles, if requested by a consular officer during the application process, based on a determination that the applicant’s circumstances warrants enhanced screening,” the Embassy said in its statement.
The Embassy made it clear that consular officers will not ask for social media passwords, interact with individuals on social media, or attempt to circumvent their privacy settings.
“The same safeguards and confidentiality provisions that already protect a visa applicant’s personal information will remain in effect for social media handles and all other newly collected information,” it said.
Based on international media reports, the Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years.
According to Reuters News Agency, the new questions, part of an effort to tighten vetting of would-be visitors to the United States, was approved on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget despite criticism from a range of education officials and academic groups during a public comment period.
Critics argued that the new questions would be overly burdensome, lead to long delays in processing and discourage international students and scientists from coming to the United States.
However, the U.S. Embassy for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean said, “national security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications”.
It noted that “every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens.”